Azamara Journey's main dining venue is the Discoveries Restaurant, located at the aft end of the ship. Dinner is served open seating at tables ranging in capacity from two to eight. A large number of the tables are rectangular two-tops, which significantly increases the flexibility of seating configuration; they can be pushed together or pulled apart to create seating for two to twelve (or more). Large windows frame the room, sides and back, and the ceiling, while low, is covered with acoustic tiles, so the noise level never seems excessive. Service is superb, often a bugaboo on ships where the makeup of the tables changes from night to night.
Typically there are six entree choices that change from night to night, including one pasta; one seafood; one fowl; one beef; one veal, lamb or pork; and one vegetarian. As well, there are usually four appetizer, three soup and two salad choices, with the addition of -- for an optional extra charge -- caviar service. A "classic dinner favorites" section of the menu offers comfort foods like shrimp cocktail, grilled salmon and Caesar Salad. Curiously, the vegetarian choice is not spelled out, listed only as "Please inquire with your server," and surprisingly there is no spa- or health-conscious menu. A selection of wines are included with dinner at no extra charge.
At dinner there are also two alternative dining venues, Prime C, a steak and chop house, and Aqualina, serving what it calls a "Mediterranean" menu, by and large typical Continental fare. Suite passengers can eat in these restaurants as often as they like, at no charge, while everybody else pays $15 a head. Reservations will be first come, first served.
PrimeC, the steak and chop house specialty restaurant, does a good job with a conventional beefeater's choice menu, though to my palate, the starters were more interesting and flavorful than the entrees. Main courses fall into two groups: "Entrees," which include choices from Fish and Chips to Mixed Grill (but no steaks), and "Steak and Cuts," which include steaks, lamb, veal and pork chops. The Steak and Cuts choices are supposed to be tailored to customer request -- i.e. cooked to order -- while the "Entrees" list offers less flexibility. However, I found it surprising that when I requested a temperature (medium rare) for the veal chop, I was told it was only available cooked medium.
Aqualina, which serves "Mediterranean fusion," is the second specialty restaurant. The food in Aqualina was quite good, but I saw little fusion. "Safe" is the adjective I would apply to the dishes taken from various coastal cultures around the Mediterranean: osso buco, rack of lamb, duck breast, etc. There was nothing challenging to the palate or unusual in any way, though my duck breast was probably the best meal I enjoyed onboard. For an extra $50, Aqualina also offers a multi-course tasting menu paired with wines. If you go for this option, be prepared to spend the better part of the evening over dinner.
Windows Cafe is the pool deck buffet operation, and, as this is a small ship by today's standards, is limited to one section. Nonetheless there are seldom lines at any of the stations. There is plenty of space between tables, and seating is available both inside and out, poolside and on the aft fantail. One caution is that the slate floor inside the cafe tends to get quite slippery during periods of rain or high humidity. The ship puts down mats, but when leaving the mat to take a seat, care still needs to be exercised. This floor is scheduled to be replaced at the next dry-dock at the end of 2009.
Breakfast in the Windows Cafe is one of the best buffet presentations I've experienced, regardless of ship size. Besides the self-serve buffet offerings, there were several "prepared to order" stations. Of course, there was the ubiquitous omelet/fried egg station, but, in addition there was a juice bar, which squeezed juice or blended smoothies from fresh fruit, a ham carving station, and a cooked-to-order pancake and waffle station.
In the self-serve section, there were at least seven varieties of smoked and marinated fish, a complete Japanese miso setup, a full spread of steamed vegetables, cheeses, unusual egg dishes (for example, little pastry cups filled with scrambled eggs and chorizo served atop buttery slices of toasted baguette), and there was always an interesting second sausage choice to go with the standard pork links. Two examples were merguez (a spicy, North African sausage) and cheddar cheese bratwurst. There was also a blintz station, and one serving various stuffed pastries: ham and cheese croissants and apple fritters on one particular day -- and all these in addition to standard buffet offerings!
Curiously enough, we found the lunch offerings to be very ordinary, though the Pool Grill did a bang-up job grilling burgers, hot dogs, kabobs, ribs and the like, not to mention frying what the grill chef modestly asserted were "the best French fries on the high seas."
At night Windows Cafe turns into "Breeza," the casual alternative buffet dining option, serving, among the standard buffet offerings, sushi and cooked-to-order stir fry.
There are extensive room service choices, including a very complete breakfast menu with seven combinations (eggs, omelets, salmon, Continental, etc.) and a la carte choices as well. A menu is delivered to staterooms each evening to be marked by the guest, and those choices are delivered at the requested time (between 6:30 and 10 a.m.). In addition there are typical 24-hour menu options, and during regular mealtimes guests may order from the Discoveries Restaurant menu.
I can say without equivocation that I never had a bad meal on Azamara Journey. In fact, I never had a meal that I would rate as less than very good. However, during the 12 days of my cruise I also failed to experience any meal after which I left the restaurant raving that I'd had one of the best meals in recent memory. I didn't see a substantial difference in food quality between Azamara Journey and the premium lines such as sister line Celebrity, and, in fact, I felt that the cuisine in Celebrity Constellation's alternative dining venue, "Ocean Liners," was superior.